I didn't like this as much as Davinci Code. Either because it was too over the top, or perhaps because I read it after Davinci Code and am getting tir...moreI didn't like this as much as Davinci Code. Either because it was too over the top, or perhaps because I read it after Davinci Code and am getting tired of Brown's formula. But it was a reasonably fun read, and I still remember quite a bit of it 2 years later.(less)
Before buying and reading this book, I read some reviews, and frankly, they didn't inspire me. They talked about it being a history of the world, they...moreBefore buying and reading this book, I read some reviews, and frankly, they didn't inspire me. They talked about it being a history of the world, they talked about its immense, ambitious scope. Such talk causes my crap detectors to tingle. I did finally buy it after reading a laudatory review by someone I respect. And I'm glad I did, because I found it to be absolutely top notch. The phrase "history of the world" misguides because the book is entirely about pre-history. The story it tells is historical in nature, but since it is about societies for which we have no written histories, the nature of the evidence is different, and that is one key to its value. The book is a superb assemblage of evidence from different disciplines, mainly genetic analysis, archeology (including non-human fossil evidence), and linguistics, with a smattering of anthropology. This evidence is woven – with original analysis – into a story of early human history. The result is a story that isn't always pretty but that hangs together well and seems better defended – hence more believable – than I would have thought possible. I suppose this is the origin of those "ambitious scope" comments in the reviews I distrusted. I could not have imagined before reading this book that so much about human pre-history could be inferred. The writing is strong as well: cogent, well paced, never overbearing. Diamond has a gift not only for writing clearly, but for helping you to understand why you should care. For example, even though his scope includes inference of pre-historical migrations and developments (both cultural and technological) throughout the world, he organizes his presentation in terms of a trenchant theme – why did the European cultures win out over so many others? Why did the Europeans colonize Africa, South America, and so on? Why didn't the Bushmen, or the Australians, or the Incas invade Europe? And this gift extends to well-chosen personal anecdotes from Diamond's rather unusual life. He personalizes the key question (why the Europeans won) by having it come from the mouth of a Papuan politician who buttonholes Diamond on a beach, asking why the Europeans have so much "cargo" and the New Guineans so little. He illustrates the challenges of Australia by telling stories of his own adventures there as well as those of some Europeans (who died there) in the 19th Century. By bringing together evidence from a number of disciplines, synthesizing it, and writing about it in an accessible way, Diamond has done something important. It has always been said that the reason to pay attention to history is to learn more about who we are. I believe that this book can be even more powerful in that endeavor because of the vast period (13000 years) and scope (the whole world) it covers, even though the lack of a written record limits the amount of detail. I for one found it stimulating, eye-opening, maybe even life changing. (less)
“Charm” is a word that has lost its charm. Nowadays, to hear the word is to think of a girl with a pretty smile, but once upon a time it evoked magic,...more“Charm” is a word that has lost its charm. Nowadays, to hear the word is to think of a girl with a pretty smile, but once upon a time it evoked magic, the mysterious, the untamed. John Berendt writes with an enviable quality (and quantity) of charm, the old kind. Berendt once wrote for magazines but his first book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, was a smashing success that propelled him far beyond that career. Midnight came out in 1994; now, 11 years later, out comes another book, The City of Falling Angels. Angels is remarkably similar to Midnight in a number of ways. Both are about out-of-the-way cities. Both are packed with tales of interesting, mostly unconventional people and events. Both are loosely organized around horrific events – Midnight’s central focus is the story of a murder and its aftermath in Savannah Georgia, while Angel meanders around the burning of the Fenice opera house and its reconstruction. Both tell stories of high society, of low society, and of meetings between high and low society. Berendt lived in both cities as a critical part of researching and writing the books. And there are stylistic similarities. Both stories are told in the first person – the author is present, though with a light touch. He loves to spring surprises. His ability to create little plot twists is breathtaking, particularly at the ends of chapters. So, if you’ve read Midnight you know quite a bit about what Angels will be like, how much pleasure is in store for you. But this detracts not at all from the pleasure. What is best about Berendt is the way he writes, and his chosen modus operandi for structuring books works just fine. No sense in my trying to boil down the stories of Venice found in the book. They paint a charming picture of Venice (in the new sense, but more importantly, in the old sense). The pleasure is in reading them in Berendt’s voice, meeting vicariously the people he meets, wondering about the many loose ends that emerge in the many stories (and in real life), shivering at the beautiful twists in his telling of them. By all means, read this book. (less)
A somewhat strange but very well told story. Great character development, Murakami develops a good amount of tension without making it a thriller. It...moreA somewhat strange but very well told story. Great character development, Murakami develops a good amount of tension without making it a thriller. It could have been a couple hundred pages shorter (i.e. 700 instead of 900). But it was a fun read.(less)
Here's somebody who is thinking about the big picture, the really big picture. I had a mixed reaction to this book. It has interesting and challenging...moreHere's somebody who is thinking about the big picture, the really big picture. I had a mixed reaction to this book. It has interesting and challenging arguments, facts, ideas. It is fairly easy to read, the style is engaging, although overly energetic at times. Yet I come away from it unsure exactly what his claims are. Kelly gets carried away, probably by his own excitement, and gets so over the top in places that I cringe. Especially at the end, which treats of God and the Future of the Universe, I felt that science fiction would be a better choice than the essay form to carry his message. (Childhood's End, anyone?) Although Kelly certainly knows a lot of things, has read, talked to, and interviewed lots of interesting and smart people, there is a throwaway quality to much of his argument, like it was written for a magazine article.
The basic thesis, in case you're wondering, is that technology is a continuation of evolution, that it's becoming more and more like the earth's ecosystems, that it evolves a lot faster than DNA based stuff. There is some back and forth about whether it's good or bad, there's some interesting discussion of how the Amish deal with technology, and there's lots and lots of material about the long term. There's an excellent annotated reading list at the end and he refers to some writers I didn't know about, like James Carse, who seems worth checking out. All in all though, for a visionary read I prefer Stu Kauffman (whom Kelly references), the topic is different but for a similar flavor with more meat, check out his ideas about the "adjacent possible" (a wonderful phrase!)(less)
Isaacson is an excellent writer, and Jobs is of course an excellent subject, especially for this longtime denizen of Silicon Valley who has met and wo...moreIsaacson is an excellent writer, and Jobs is of course an excellent subject, especially for this longtime denizen of Silicon Valley who has met and worked with a number of the people mentioned in the book, not to mention closely followed the history of Apple and Pixar for a long time. So this was a must read for me and went fast. What an amazing mix of genius and boor, visionary and narcissist, long-game strategist and impetuous child! One who definitely did make a dent in the world. Still sad to lose him so young, I suppose reading the book was a little bit an act of worship as well.(less)
Histories of Americans in Paris naturally make one think of the 1920's and 1930's -- Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Miller, and all the rest. This one covers...moreHistories of Americans in Paris naturally make one think of the 1920's and 1930's -- Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Miller, and all the rest. This one covers a different era, starting in 1830 and finishing around the turn of the century. It's a really nice vehicle for telling the story of Paris itself during that time, from Louis Philippe to the Commune and recovery therefrom. McCullough has gone through letters and plenty of other primary source material to find interesting tidbits about many Americans who went to Paris to study painting, medicine, sculpture, and other disciplines, and other influences like the visit of Buffalo Bill and his midget Tom Thumb. One learns fascinating things -- I had no idea that the Samuel Morse who invented the telegraph spent the early part of his career in a very serious quest to become known as a painter, and that a painting (reproduced in the book) that he spent months working on in the Louvre recently sold at auction for more than $3 million!
All in all a good bunch of stories well chosen and well told. Very enjoyable read.(less)
Cool. Guy's got a way with words. Lotsa fun inventions here, my personal fav is "pooning". Important to remember this was written before the web actua...moreCool. Guy's got a way with words. Lotsa fun inventions here, my personal fav is "pooning". Important to remember this was written before the web actually existed, although lots of the pieces were in place and hackers definitely existed.
If you're into dystopias, you've got to read this one.(less)
The style is so delicious and the chapter endings have such lovely twists at times, that it's hard to put down. It made me think at times of a Spielbe...moreThe style is so delicious and the chapter endings have such lovely twists at times, that it's hard to put down. It made me think at times of a Spielberg movie -- my emotions are being manipulated by a master at manipulation.(less)